Updated: May 27
Every corporation in the United States suddenly is telling everyone that Black Lives Matter. If you have ever bought anything from a company, or even if a company just has your email address for some reason, you know exactly what we are saying here. You’ve seen the messages in your inbox. You’ve watched the tweets roll across your screen. “Today and every day, Black Lives Matter.” “We stand in solidarity with protestors.” “Let’s make a difference — together.”
Of course, any public expression in support of Black lives is better than none. But make no mistake — customers pay attention to what companies say, but they pay even more attention to what companies do. An outspoken statement against police brutality is excellent, but if it’s the first time your organization has ever taken a stand on this issue, some of your customers are going to think, this is cool and all, but where exactly has this company been for the past five years?
If you want to prove to your customers that you truly do care about the state of Black lives in America, and you are not just hopping on the diversity Twitter bandwagon, you need to take some concrete steps to affect change. And most of these steps need to happen within your company itself.
Focus more on what your employees think of you than what your customers think of you. Because really, these two things are related. If you pay lip service to a movement that’s all about equity, but then you pay your front-line employees five cents over minimum wage, people are going to notice. It should be noted that blue collar workers are disproportionately black and brown, and low-income neighborhoods are disproportionately patrolled by the police. If you want to make change, look at how you are empowering or not empowering your own people.
Take a good hard look at your business practices. Where is your product manufactured? Who manufactures it? Is any part of your business dependent on prison labor? While everyone is talking about police brutality, the cops are just the entry point to a criminal justice system with a long, long history of exploiting black people. If your product is produced in a prison, or you do business with organizations whose products are produced in prisons, change that. Immediately. There is nothing more pressing.
Take an even better, harder look at your leadership team. What do your customers look like? What do your front-line or entry-level staff look like? If there is any sort of noticeable visual difference between your customers, your lower level team, and your C-suite (and let’s be honest, there probably is), you have got to revise your hiring and promoting practices. A company cannot be truly committed to equality for people of color if people of color are not at the decision making table. And that extends beyond just the C-suite into board members and investors, too.
Make a real, lasting commitment to corporate giving. There are so many nonprofits and organizations out there that are doing the hard, on-the-ground work of keeping this movement alive and making lasting change. These organizations deserve your support. This is also an excellent way to get employee buy-in — create a committee with employee representatives from all of your departments to talk about corporate giving and how to make the greatest impact.
It’s easy to post on Twitter and call it a day. But if there is one thing we all should take away from these protests, it is that America is sick and tired of lip service. If a company wants to say Black Lives Matter, they need to also prove it in their actions.